Who Makes Decisions for Children When You Divorce

Divorce isn’t just about who gets the kids for the week or physical custody. Your children are your responsibility until they are least 18 in Ontario — longer if they have a disability and need ongoing care. Joint legal custody gives you a say in their health and well-being, religion and education. You may be divorced, but you and your ex are still parents for life.

Two kids playing

Getting Along In Your Children’s Best Interests

Ontario family courts hope parents can set aside their differences for their children’s sake. Keeping the problems that soured your marriage to yourself helps children adjust to divorce and family separation. Canada’s Divorce Act gives children as much contact with their parents as time and their best interests make possible. Cooperating with your ex allows you to make the most of your children’s most precious years.

Legal Custody Rights and Privileges

Joint legal custody is a legal right and responsibility. Ontario family courts typically give parents joint legal custody, allowing them both to have a say in children’s upbringing. Seeing parents work together to make decisions is healthy for children. But occasionally a parent makes choices that harm children emotionally or physically. While courts are reluctant to grant sole legal custody, it can stop an uncooperative ex-spouse from fighting in front of the kids (see Dealing With an Unfit Parent below). 

Four Reasons to Ask for Joint Legal Custody

  1. Making decisions alone is difficult.
  2. You’ll be less resentful.
  3. It can be healthier for your kids and ex-spouse.
  4. Your ex’s opinions matter to your children. 

Being Friends Affects Custody

Courts look kindly on parents who get along. Family court judges use the friendly parent rule to give custody to a parent who cooperates with their spouse in sharing access and making decisions. You may lose out on more than you expect by being aggressive at home or court.

Joint or Divided Decision Making – What’s Best?

Some parents prefer divided decision making (or parallel decision making). For example, you may want to take charge of what church your children go to. Your ex may prefer naturopaths to medical doctors. Education can be very important to you. Maybe you want your kids to go to Greek language school on Saturdays. Making some decisions jointly, like about after-school care, and others apart could make divorce or separation easier on your kids and you. 

Sealing deals with handshake

Making Health, Education or Religion Decisions in Divorce

Joint or divided legal custody lets you make decisions about:

  • Doctor’s appointments
  • Vaccinations
  • Prescription drugs
  • Naturopathic remedies
  • Emergency care
  • Surgery
  • Dental work
  • Counselling or family therapy
  • Private or public school
  • School trips
  • Sports, art or music classes
  • Residential or day school
  • Religious lessons or trips
  • Church or Sunday school
  • After school care
  • and much more.

Change an Ontario Legal Custody Order

Because courts care about your children’s best interests, agreeing on joint or divided legal custody gives the court confidence you are committed to helping your children grow and develop. You can make changes at any time. You can ask a family court judge to alter your legal custody agreement if you are worried about your kids’ medical care or your ex-spouse wants the kids to go to private school. Agreeing on ways to resolve differences without going to court reduces the stress on everyone. But when you really can’t reach a decision, family court is an impartial option.

Disagreeing on Your Children’s Religion

Death, taxes and religion do cause friction. While courts don’t want to interfere with the right to make religious choices, they will get involved when a child is being harmed. When a father refused to respect his children’s desire not to attend his church, the court intervened. As the Supreme Court of Canada put it, judges are not empowered to decide on a “war on religion.”  What matters is how religious beliefs are practised and the impact and effect they have on children.

Dealing With an Unfit Parent

Not all parents make good choices. Tell your family lawyer if you think sole child custody or sole legal custody is safer for your children. Your lawyer can request an urgent hearing before an Ontario family court judge to contest a child custody order or visitation rights. Ontario has supervised access centres where children can visit parents with problems with addictions, neglect, abuse or mental health. If it’s in your children’s best interests, expect to win your day in court.

Reading documents

Legal Advice for Custody Issues in Ontario

Axess Law’s Ontario family lawyers are available 7 days a week, day or evening, to meet or video conference with you. They can help you write a parenting plan or apply for legal custody with or without a spouse. Dial toll-free to 877-522-9377 or in Greater Toronto at 647-479-0118 or use our online booking form to make an appointment. Let us know if you prefer a video call. In person appointments with licensed lawyers are available at our Ottawa, Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices.
Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s family law services.